Monthly Archives: November 2008

Look at my new hardware!

My new server, fresh from Fedex!

Just yesterday I was commenting on how machines do not define me…but I have to admit, I do sort of dig technology too.  Just to be clear, I plan to use a lot of buzz-words and mumbo jumbo to astound you with my computer savvy…isn’t that what computer people do?  Anyhow, I think there may be some interesting bits for computer neophytes as well.

I had been running this blog on an old 1.4 ghz desktop machine with 512 mb of ram and a 20 gb harddrive.  This machine was pieced together from parts we had laying around the office and was never supposed to be exposed to the public.  But, as with most computer projects, the prototype became the product and sure enough, this blog was turned on with the power and support of “ole Bessie”.

My new server!

By trade, I am a software engineer…I write computer software for a living.  I don’t know a lot about computer hardware.  I just assume the hardware works.  Asking me to choose computer hardware is like asking your autobody guy to rebuild your engine…it might be successful, but it is probably not ideal.  So, a few weeks ago, Dell had a sale on Poweredge SC440 small business servers.  A hardware friend/coworker of mine mentioned that it was a good deal and might serve as a good replacement for “Bessie”.  The sale price of the machine was $199.  I upped the memory a little and got the whole thing delivered for $252.!  It has 2 gb of ram, a dual core 2 ghz pentium processor and an 80 gb harddrive.  Ahh, much better!  So I migrated the blog from “Bessie” to “Vader” (more about that later).

Now, let me tell you, 8 servers in a 10×10 room put off a powerful lot of heat.  Yup, I have 8 servers in my office.  My current project needs 4 servers to function.  I have a couple of extras for testing, etc.  Adding this new server raised my heat by one machine.  I am somewhat worried about going through a Bruce Banner change.  I don’t think these machines put off gamma rays, but I’d also rather not turn into the incredible hulk either.

Inside my new server!

Anyhow, migrating a wordpress blog from one machine to another is really pretty simple also.  I spent about 4 days making it complicated but it need not be.  Basically, I installed WAMP which is the webserver and database programs that run the website.  I just installed it with all of the default settings.  I did not install wordpress on the new machine.  Instead, I copied the entire WAMP directory (c:\wamp\…it includes the web server, database and wordpress files) from my original machine to the same directory on my new machine.  Restart the webserver and we’re in business.  I read all sorts of opinions on how to do backups and migration plans and how to properly sacrifice a chicken over the old and/or new servers.  I tried some of those things (well, not the chicken part) and none of those options really worked.  WordPress and WAMP will run on windows but are not really Windows-based so I figured that they probably didn’t have the invasive installation mess that most Windows programs have (i.e. I figured I would just copy stuff over and hope it works).  Sure enough, I was right!  So, after fooling around for 4 days with no success, I punted and in 8 minutes, my blog was migrated!  I don’t know if you can tell the increase in speed, but please humor me and say you can!  Wahoo!

Who needs girlie mags?

The seed catalogs are in!

I have a secret stash of magazines hidden under the mattress on my side of the bed.  I know I am not the only one with this problem, but yesterday, I added to my collection…the Gurney’s catalog came in the mail!  I have a problem and I am willing to admit it.  I just love to look at seed catalogs.  I pour over each page and read every description of every seed.  I make lists of what I want and more lists of who sells at the best price.  I have a problem!

If my problem was uni-dimensional, there may be hope…but I have another addiction also.  My wife calls it bee-porn.  I admit it – I love to read beekeeping magazines and catalogs and websites too.  I love to read Beesource.

In one way, it makes no sense why I read the seed catalogs over and over again.  The descriptions never change.  How many ways can you say a bean is green or a cabbage will make the best kraut ever?  Still, as winter looms, I take part in the process.  I really hate winter. It depresses me.  I have a serious need to be outside but I don’t care for the cold anymore.  So I am stuck with a contempt for winter.  But the catalogs give me something to look forward to.  It’s how I get through the winter.  That sounds overly dramatic, but it makes my outlook so much brighter.  I love fooling with the garden and it’s sort of what I am all about.  Messing around in the garden makes me feel alive.  I work on computers all day and they take me so out of touch from other people (don’t get me wrong, I don’t really like people : ) ) and from what makes me feel human.  Machines pay the bills, but they are not who I am.

So, I am thankful for Gurneys, and especially their catalog.  I am thankful for bee-porn.  I am thankful for my crazy wife and kids who support me with my problem!  Happy Thanksgiving!

My boy

My Boy!

I was messing around in the family room the last night when Isaac brought a metal plane over to me to play with. He has a collection of metal planes, equivalent in size to matchbox cars. Anyhow, he said, “Here Dad, you can play with this one.” He didn’t really care much about playing with me. He just wanted to make sure I had something to play with. We each sat in our chairs flying our jets around in our own make-believe worlds. I loved playing with matchbox cars as a kid and I still can get pretty well lost in play with them. Isaac knows that and he wanted me to have something to do. We played with our planes and watched “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” together.  It all took me back.  I loved being a kid (well, not junior high, junior high should be illegal).  I still love being a kid…I am not so sure I like being trapped in this strange body with hair growing out of my ears and on my back…but I still feel like a kid and my boy knows it.  He can look into my eyes and he knows I need a plane to fly!

Cure for the common cold

Like almost everyone else in the United States, I seem to have gotten some sort of cold.  Upon recommendation of my Dad, I tried some Theraflu and it is really pretty amazing stuff.  It soothed my throat and dried up my snot-maker.  I still feel pretty miserable though so I decided to amp it up a bit.

Ginger brandy for what ails you!

I remember my Grandpa sipping on ginger brandy when he had a cold.  He wasn’t a drinker at all so for him to hit the brandy, it must have been effective.  I headed to the local drug store tonight.  After slinking through the liquor aisle, I found a bottle of the exact brand of ginger brandy Grandpa used to drink.  Like Grandpa, I am not much of a drinker.  I had no idea how to drink brandy so I figured I would start with a straw.  It worked but it didn’t seem too tough drinking hooch through a straw.  I considered how they drink on tv so I decided to do brandy shots.  I can report that after 11 shots, I am not feeling any pain at all.  I have developed a red nose though.

Anyhow, I am definitely feeling no pain, but I don’t know that I truly knocked out the cold.  With a bit of scientific Google research, I found a few more home remedies to try out.  I read that zinc can shorten the life of a cold.  I didn’t have any zinc laying around but I know that pennies are made partly of zinc.  The above study said 15 mg of zinc is the recommended dose for men.  Pennies are 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper.  An individual penny weighs 2.5 grams.  Though I am in an altered state, I believe that means that each penny has 2437.5 mg of zinc.  As always, if some is good, more is better so I swallowed 2 pennies and another shot of brandy.  I also discovered that increased copper will help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure…awesome!  And another shot of brandy for health!

I found a listing of all sorts of home remedies as well.  Some were easy to try.  One suggestion is that lemon and some honey mixed in water would reduce the length of a cold.  I have honey from my bees but I am a little short on lemons.  The kids still had some Halloween candy so I swiped a packet of lemonheads from their stash and chased them with a tablespoon of honey.  Now, I expect that some of this stuff will help my cold.  By the way, is a headache part of the recovery from a cold?  I am starting to get a bit of a headache and a cottony mouth…we’ll see how that turns out.  Anyhow, does anyone else have any home remedies that work?  I am in need!

Solar Furnace – Results

Solar furnace installed

We finally had a sunny day yesterday and I was able to get some real results from my solar furnace .  I had to make a few changes for success though…

First of all, I discovered that the mercury switch was not sensitive enough to really work.    The cold air outside was messing up the way it functioned.  I could not insulate the part of the air box where the switch was since the switch has to be able to move (if you’ve never seen the setup, a mercury switch is placed on a temperature sensitive metal coil which moves and allows the mercury to open or close the switch).  I decided to experiment with wiring the solar panel straight to the fan which actually worked very well.  The fan only came on when the sun was out and shining pretty brightly which was precisely when the best heat was being made.

The pipes that run from the furnace to the house were white originally but it seems that enough cooling took place in the pipes to make the system not work as well as I had hoped.  I painted them flat black like the rest of the system and it worked like a charm.  The pipes absorbed heat from the sun while transferring the heat through the system, thus helping with the whole “hot air rises” thing.

Solar furnace installed

I also discovered that I had a few air leaks around the pipes and in the holes for the air pipes in the furnace.  I used silicone caulking (which will actually cure in about any temp regardless of what the instructions say) to patch all of the holes/gaps/leaks.

Once I made those three changes, I took temperature measurements of the cool air pipe from my family room floor and the warm air pipe from the furnace.  My floor air was 63 deg F and my warmed air was 84 deg F!  Hee-haw!  Eureka! Ding Dang, y’all!

Ok, so I was pretty happy with the results.  The fan kicks on and off with the sun which manages the heat pretty well.  I still need to boost the power to the fan to get a little more air flow.  I did some experimenting and was able to get a better temperature rise with a bit more air flow.  I will probably add another cheap-o solar panel to run the fan better.  I also need to find a better way to prevent backflow.  I really don’t like hanging a piece of plastic in front of the vent.  For now, it is working but I don’t like it as a long term solution.   I have glass to build one more furnace so I will probably build it out then figure out some way to deal with both systems.  Anyhow, for now, I am pleased with the solar furnace!

6 Random Things

Children in the Corn tagged me for the 6 random things quest.  Here is my go at it:

  • I am learning to play violin – though a friend says he’s never seen anyone smile playing violin…he assures me I should play fiddle because everyone smiles while playing fiddle!
  • I don’t like hot chocolate but I drank many cups of it while wooing my wife in college.
  • I have three degrees:   B.A., M.A., M.S. for which I am still paying.
  • I am an Eagle Scout
  • I love Big Band music more than any other type
  • I grew up in a small town of around 500 people…not a single stop light in the entire county.

I don’t know a lot of folks who would likely complete this so I will tag “Anonymous”.  If you want to participate, please do.  I think it is pretty fun to read random stuff about other people.  Let me know if you do a post…

Now, since I am onto random, here are some more random things:

  • I am home with Abigail today as she is sick.
  • By profession, I am a software engineer but I would love to live a more simple life.  I think I could easily be a full-time farmer…if it would pay the bills.
  • I love hot weather.
  • My favorite cake is red velvet
  • I have been stung hundreds of times by bees.  It barely even hurts any more.
  • My favorite movie is probably Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood.  I also like the BBC version of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice.
  • M*A*S*H is the all time best tv program ever followed by Dukes of Hazzard and Airwolf

That’s all for now!

Something for your truffles

Peanut butter truffles

Chocolate truffles are God’s gift to humankind I think.  I am sort of picky about the chocolate I like.  For instance, I do not like any chocolate ice cream (really, I don’t like any ice cream), chocolate milk, or hot chocolate.  When I see truffles, though, I am willing to pass through fire (except that it would melt the chocolate) to get to them.  Peanut butter truffles

We have a local chocolatier family in Charleston, the Holls.  They own Holl’s Chocolates and make some really great truffles and chocolate goodness.  As much as I love their confections, I can’t really afford to eat their stuff as much as I would like.

Of course, that means it is time to improvise.  I have found a few recipes for homemade truffles that are really pretty amazing and simple to make.  I doubt I will be putting Holl’s out of business, but it surely satisfies my need to be cheap and well-chocolated.  Here is a recipe that we discovered in a flier sent out by Kroger.


Peanut butter truffles

Peanut Butter Truffles

1 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

24 oz. melted chocolate chips (we used semi-sweet though milk chocolate would be good too)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup powdered sugar (optional – for rolling)

1/4 cup cocoa (optional – for rolling)

1/2 cup ground peanuts (optional – for rolling)

Peanut butter truffles

Heat Cream with peanut butter in a saucepan.  Whisk together as peanut butter melts.  Meanwhile, melt chocolate in a double boiler (or microwave as I did).  Combine peanut butter mixture with melted chocolate.  Add vanilla and place in refrigerator to set (recipe says 10 minutes, I say 3 hours).  Once set, scoop truffles with a melon baller (or use a spoon and ball them in your hand) and roll in powdered sugar, cocoa, peanuts (or nothing as we did).  Return to refrigerator and let them set again.  Keep chilled until you serve them.

I don’t really know how many truffles this recipe makes because I ate a ton of the mixture as it was setting.  I also made Shrek-sized truffles, much larger than a typical candy.  One is basically a meal in itself!

Peanut butter truffles

I only make truffles in November and December for some reason but we’ll make a bunch of them and add to our hibernation weight!  There are lots of other recipes out there and all are similar and simple.  This is the time of year for experimenting!

Adventure at the Clay Center

Fun at the Clay Center

We used to live in Nashville, TN before moving to WV.  On a visit back to TN last year, we took a tour of the Adventure Science Center.  We decided to buy a family membership which is good at many museums and centers across the country…including the Clay Center in WV.  This weekend, we decided to head for the Clay Center to see what we could get into.  We arrived at 11:45 or so on Sunday morning and basically had the place to ourselves.  We took in a planetarium show which included the movie, “Space Oddities”  as well as the typical tour of the constellations (which was excellent).  Fun at the Clay Center

We exited out of the planetarium directly into the art gallery which had a special display of WV artists in addition to the gallery-owned pieces.  We each picked our favorite pieces.

Fun at the Clay Center

In particular, Abigail liked a modern piece and wanted a picture.  Of course, we couldn’t take a picture so she is determined to write the artist a letter asking for a print of the piece.  I suspect she will succeed.  Anyhow, it was great to see them excited to pick their favorites (though they were ready to move on as soon as they had found their pieces).  We ventured into two displays they had including Milton Gardener’s Earth City and Health Royale.

Fun at the Clay Center

Fun at the Clay Center

Earth City was a cool model of an old-timey road-side attraction where the kids could play with water to discover how it flows as well as see all sorts of gizmos to move water and soak unsuspecting bystanders.  They had boots attached to a conveyor belt that the kids manually operated to fill a bin that occasionally dumped.  We watched as water trickled down through all sorts of things and saw how steam (fog) travels through a valley.

Fun at the Clay Center

In Health Royale, there were a number of games, but in particular the kids enjoyed a Hollywood-squares-esque game where various body parts helped the kids answer questions about oral hygeine.  Isaac loved the talking brain especially.

Fun at the Clay Center

Finally, we went to an exhibit called the Gizmo Factory that was all about fun with physics.  The kids got to reflect lasers through fog via mirrors, pull themselves up in a chair with pulleys, see how a computer translated their dance into sounds, play a laser harp, and watch water and a ball defy gravity.

All told, we spent 3 full hours exploring the fun at the museum.  The best part was that it was all free (aside from our membership which has already paid for itself).  

The kids had a blast and would have stayed longer if we would have let them.

We’ll definitely go back and soon.  Next week they decorate for Christmas which includes a display of model trains and trees decorated in various styles from around the world.  I can’t wait to go back!

Fun at the Clay Center

Fun at the Clay Center

Fun at the Clay Center

Fun at the Clay Center

Fun at the Clay Center

Solar furnace installation

Solar furnace thermostat

I last posted a week or so ago about my solar furnace.  I mentioned that I needed to install the system in my window and get the fan/thermostat working.  Well, my friends, wait no longer!  This weekend I finished the installation of the solar furnace and even powered it with a small solar panel…but I am getting ahead of myself.

Solar furnace entry to house

My downstairs family room has 5 windows, 3 of which face southward.  A south facing panel is optimum because it gets sun almost all day as the sun progresses across the sky.  I read that 20 degrees from due south results in a 5% decrease in performance.  Luckily I have south windows but if I didn’t have due south, I would still try the furnace.  A 5% decrease would still make things interesting.   In addition to the direction, you have to consider the angle from horizontal of the panel so that it gets optimum sunlight in the winter when the sun is lower in the sky.  I have read various thoughts on the optimum angle but the easy one for me to remember is “latitude + 10”.  Here in Charleston, our latitude is 38 degrees.

Solar furnace entry to house

According to this calculation then, the optimum angle from horizontal is 48 degrees.  Using my trusty eyeball, I leaned the solar panel along the south wall of my house and tilted it at precisely 48 degrees.  To be more exact, you should consider doing a site survey to make sure you really have things right. I will probably just mess with it until it gets the best sun. In a more permanent installation, you would want this to be much more precise. Mine is easily movable.

Anyhow, I built a box (which I insulated) to run a warm pipe and a cool pipe through my window.  The thermostat and fan are inside the warm pipe inlet so the warm air should automatically rise and slowly flow across the thermostat.  The rise in temperature should kick on the thermostat/fan and move the air a little better through the system.  As the warm air evacuates, it will cool the thermostat and turn off the fan.

Solar furnace entry to house

I mentioned in the last post on this topic that I could not drive the fan with a super cheap solar cell.  I was rummaging through the junk bin at the office when I found a pair of fans (actually, quite a few fans) that were lower amperage than my original one.  Anyhow, my new fan is rated at 12 volts and  0.16 amps.  I know it will run at 9 volts so I figured I needed a solar panel that would produce 1.44 watts (i.e. 9 * 0.16).  Harbor Freight sells a solar panel used for trickle charging auto batteries for $19.99.  Actually, the website has it for $14.99 but in the store it is more.  If I would have taken the printout to the store, they would have reduced the price.  Apparently the store and website are somewhat independent.  I didn’t have a printout and it wasn’t worth driving back for it so I paid $19.99.  Ok, back to the story – it will produce 1.5 watts which will run my new fan.  I don’t know if it always just produces 12 volts and the amps vary (because it produces differently depending on the strength of the sun) or if it produces 0-12 volts and constant amps, etc.  All that is to say, I don’t know exactly what wattage is driving my fan but it turns it.  Solar furnace entry to house

It occurs to me as I write this that I should measure the output with my mulitmeter…but really, for now, I don’t care.  The fan turns fine in sun and that is my main goal.  Unfortunately, the fan will not blow the dryer vent louver open. I had planned to use a dryer vent to close the inflow when not in use.  I will have to resort to the “plastic over the hole” method I mentioned in the earlier post, to prevent back-siphoning.  And let me tell you, back-siphoning is real and a problem if you don’t deal with it…I quickly learned a lesson on that topic!

Ok, lots of words to describe all this.  The only problem is, I have not had a sunny day since I got this thing installed.  I wanted to post about this progress but I don’t have any real results yet.  I will have to post again with results.  I know it will make a difference, but I don’t know the extent.  Stay tuned!